Category: Local Churches


May God richly bless the hurting in Charleston. May His peace be upon you in abundance. May His strength be your stay and His shadow your refuge. May His Word be your hope and His Spirit your Comforter.

As I have come to understand the nature of the gospel more completely over the years, one of the aspects that inspires, excites, humbles, and encourages me most is found in the depiction of the Body of Christ given in the Book of the Revelation. In the fifth chapter, there is a description of the Church of the Savior that is breathtaking and comforting, especially during these days of unrest. I often remind myself that this is what the people of God look like from heaven’s perspective. This is what I preach for, pray for, and long for. This is what should be in our hearts and this is what we should strive for in our personal lives and ministries.

All travelers, one final destination. All people, one supernatural Kingdom. All races, one shed blood. All sinners, one glorious Savior.

Rev. 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

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Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

Psalm 148

A Meditation for the Lord’s Day

In the Book of Psalms, there is a category of Psalms known as the “Hallelujah Psalms.” This term comes from the use of the Hebrew word halel in each of these . This word means “praise, glory, most, celebrate, and shine.” In its various grammatical constructions, this word is rendered “to be praised, to be made praiseworthy, to be commended.”

The most well-known of these Hallelujah Psalms is the collection that ends the book of Psalms, that is, 146 through 150. Each of these five Psalms begins and ends with “Praise the LORD.” Writers have referred to this collection of Psalms as the “Hallalujah Chorus” to this book of praises, that is, the whole book of Psalms.

Let’s consider Psa. 148:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created. 6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; 8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; 9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; 10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; 12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. 14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!

The writer calls for praise for the LORD from the heavens and the heights, from His angels, from the sun and moon, and all stars of light. He commanded, and they were created. Further, God has established them forever by a decree that will not pass away. God’s making and sustaining of creation are to be the basis of praise from the very things made and sustained.

In verses 7-10, the writer provides another list of sources from which God should be praised. Praise should come from the earth, sea monsters, from fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind, mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars, from all beasts, creeping things and winged foul. Once again, all of creation is exhorted to praise its Creator in light of His power to make them and maintain them.

The writer concludes this Psalm of praise with reference to man. In verse 11, he calls upon the kings of the earth and all people to praise the LORD. Princes and all judges are included. With these references, the writer indicates that even those with great authority among men are obligated to recognize a greater authority, which is the LORD.

Mentioned next are young men and virgins, old men and children. At no stage of life, does the obligation to praise God cease. From the beginning of life to its end, we are to praise the LORD for His greatness. Children are to be instructed in the praise of God, both by word and deed. They learn about this universal beauty through the teaching and example of adults.

Young man and virgins, who have entered the most active part of life where the tendency is to think primarily of self and plans for the future, are reminded that before all else they have a responsibility to praise the LORD. All listed are exhorted to praise the name of the LORD because His name alone is exalted and, as has been stated previously, His glory is above earth and heaven. And He is to be praised, as well, for His rescue of His people.

As noted, this Psalm ends with that wonderful declaration “Praise the LORD.” Let us, therefore, enter His presence with gladness and humble thanksgiving so that we might join the ranks of those who have gathered to Praise the LORD.

 

The Gospel

2014

 

Introduction

Several years ago, on the first Sunday of the new year, I began a tradition, which I have repeated each year since. I spoke on one particular doctrinal issue in order to set the course for the coming year and remind us all of what really is the most important matter we handle as a congregation (All Saints Parish Church in Vancouver, WA). All that we believe, practice, and hope to become is grounded in one issue. It is essential, obviously, and due to the essential nature of this subject, I want to revisit it this afternoon as we begin a new year. I’m referring, of course, to the gospel.

The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection. People think about the state of their lives, what they wished they had accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, and so forth. The gospel is the heart of the Church’s life and, therefore, serious reflection on the gospel and the state of our ministry is both edifying and advisable.

I want to explain what I mean by the term “gospel.” When I use this term, I have in mind what God has revealed to us about our redemption. Therefore, I’m using the word “gospel” in a broad sense to include all that the Bible has to say about our restoration as a fallen race. The manner in which the gospel is understood and taught is the life-blood of any congregation, as I’ve already stressed. What is believed about this subject determines the spiritual character of a church; in fact, it determines whether we really are a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If a church believes and teaches what the Bible proclaims on this issue, then that church is bound to have a good apprehension of everything found in God’s word. On the other hand, if a church does not understand, believe and teach what the Bible says about man’s salvation, that congregation is bound to have defective doctrine across the board. Command is illegal

First, we will consider the necessity of the gospel. If the gospel, broadly defined, has to do with the restoration of man, we must know what it is about man that requires a restoration. Second, we will look at the provision of the gospel. Under this point, we will see what God has done in response to man’s need. The third point will be the exclusivity of the gospel. Here, I will concentrate on the unique nature of God’s provision for our need.

01. The Necessity of the Gospel

We are all aware of the event that occurred early in the history of our race which unalterably established our need of redemption. I’m referring, of course, to the fall of Adam and Eve. This is such a familiar portion of Scripture that I’m sure I could just mention it and proceed without much elaboration. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, I will review this story briefly.

As we know, the Biblical description of man’s origin is composed of two primary elements, his creation and his disobedience. The Scripture tells us that God created the first man and he was perfect. In addition, because this creature was made in the image of the Creator, he was morally upright. In the beginning, therefore, Adam, the first man and father of our race, existed in a state of innocence.

All was harmonious in this setting. God was recognized and served as the almighty Creator; man recognized himself as one that came from the hand of this almighty Creator and was, therefore, bound to relate to God as the thing made should relate to the sovereign Maker. In this state, Adam enjoyed communion with God and was at peace and able to pursue his calling.

In this original environment, God designed a circumstance in which Adam would be tested regarding his willingness to abide by the implications of the Creator-creature relationship. God granted Adam access to all that the Garden of Eden had to offer with one exception. Adam was forbidden to eat the fruit that was found on one particular tree.

This was a simple arrangement, yet one with profound implications. This circumstance declared that this was God’s world and, therefore, His will was supreme. It taught Adam that he had to submit to the Creator in all things. The point of this test was not the fruit of that particular tree, but Adam’s willingness to abide by the command of the Creator.

After receiving instructions, Adam also received Eve, a creature like him. Together, Adam and Eve were commissioned to multiply, subdue the earth and rule it under God. Together, as man and wife, our first parents were to serve the Creator and thus enjoy His blessings.

As we know, however, things changed drastically:

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

These few verses record the most tragic event that could be imagined. Here is the ruination of our race! That which was perfect is perfect no longer. The relationship between the Creator and the creature is horribly disrupted and the narrative hardly reveals the devastation which resulted from this episode. It is this one incident which determines the nature of our existence from that point forward. This act forever changed all of creation.

Consider the manner in which this story is given to us. The writer records the facts in a simple, straight-forward manner. I have already rehearsed the background for this story. We know that this was a perfect environment; we know that God and man existed in harmony; we know that all of God’s creation was what He intended it to be; and we know that Adam had been given a command that epitomized his relation to God. But into this picture came the deceiver, the enemy of righteousness.

The woman was questioned by the serpent: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (v. 1) And the woman captured the essence of the command when she repeated God’s prohibition (v. 2) Clearly she knew that the Creator had forbidden her to eat from that particular tree; she was not ignorant of the law that governed her relationship with God. Nevertheless, instead of ceasing contact with the serpent immediately, she continued and heard these words: “You surely shall not die!” (v. 4)

And, as we know, Eve considered the words of the deceiver and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (v. 6)

If we ask, “What happened in the Garden of Eden?”, the uncomplicated answer is that the command of God was broken—and this is the fundamental definition of all sin. Perhaps this is why this important event is recorded in such a simple fashion. Perhaps it is so that any child can read this account and understand what happened. God gave a command and it was not obeyed. Anyone can listen to these words and know that Eve and then Adam disobeyed the Creator.

This brings me to a second question: What is the meaning of this event? We get a symbolic answer to this second question in our passage: “7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Consider how awful it was for the creatures made in God’s image to sense the need to hide themselves from Him! Clearly, something horrible occurred. When they broke God’s commandment, they immediately sensed that what they had done was unnatural; they immediately realized that the peace of the Garden had been disturbed.

For Adam and Eve, the repercussions began with their instant realization that they were transgressors and could no longer appear in God’s presence without shame and guilt. Adam and Eve attempted to avoid confrontation with God because confrontation with God would require them to own up to their disobedience. They did what they could in those circumstances to evade the Lawgiver.

Adam and Eve did what they were forbidden to do and, as a result, their relationship with God was ruined. This is the story of the beginning of our race. From this time forward, Scripture teaches, every descendant of Adam and Eve is conceived in the state of alienation; every descendant is born in that state of estrangement from God. At its core, the action of Adam and Eve was rebellion. They both substituted their will for God’s will; they both ranked their wisdom above the wisdom of God.

We know from later revelation that the transgression of Adam and Eve had a most extreme impact upon their natures. Soon, we are told about the banishment of our first parents from this place of fellowship with God. Life in the Garden meant fellowship with God; it meant that all was right and that all relationships were what they should be. Banishment from the Garden meant just the opposite; it meant that fellowship with God had been broken and that things were not right and all relationships had been adversely affected.

From a blessed existence to a cursed existence; from peace to disorder; from fellowship to antagonism. Now man is at odds with God, now he is God’s enemy, now he struggles under the weight of guilt for having disobeyed. Man comes into existence now with a rebellious heart and throughout his miserable life, he gives continual expression to the corruption of his soul.

This is the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Every facet of his existence, every faculty of his soul, is marred by sin. Depraved man will not and cannot restore what has been lost; he knows only the way of defiance because his soul carries in it the seed of corruption. This is fallen man; this is man before the gospel.

Returning to the Genesis record, we know that something else was said between God’s cursing of the parties involved and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden. When God came to Adam, Eve and the serpent, each party was cursed and bound to live with certain temporal consequences of this incident. And the consequences went well beyond temporal considerations; the very nature of man was affected.

However, following His denunciation of the serpent, the woman and the man, God gave that wonderful promise of a coming restoration: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (v. 15) Here is the first indication that God, the One offended, would undertake the rescue of His special creatures.

This is the promise that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible and throughout the rest of history. This is the first announcement of the gospel and it comes here in Genesis, in the midst of man’s ruin. The gospel that we love and cherish cannot be rightly understood, believed or taught apart from an understanding of its origin. A plan of restoration was necessitated by the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden.

02. The Provision of the Gospel

We have seen what necessitated a plan of redemption; now we can see what God meant by His promise to send a Deliverer. What must be kept in mind is fallen man’s need. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, that spot which symbolized fellowship with God and harmony in relationships. After disobeying God, they lacked the quality of moral uprightness, which is defined by God’s character alone.

Man’s need, then, is great; it is almost beyond comprehension. However, God’s provision is also great. The provision of God in the gospel centers upon one concept: substitution. For fallen man to be reconciled to God, two things had to happen: one, fallen man had to render unto God a perfect life and thus do what Adam failed to do; two, fallen man had to provide a payment for his sins. The problem, of course, is that fallen man is incapable of providing what is absolutely necessary for his redemption.

Without going into great detail, let me state that one aspect of man’s total depravity is his inability to do anything about his condition. Man was not just wounded, spiritually speaking, he was killed. A sinner is a walking dead man when it comes to spiritual matters. He can do nothing about his circumstance and does not care to do anything about his circumstance. What, then, is the solution? It is what I mentioned earlier. The solution, the only solution, is substitution.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Here is the substitutionary payment for our sins; here is the satisfaction of our debt before God. Notice that Paul reminds us that we were “dead” in our fallen state; however, God made us alive in and with Christ.

Jesus Christ is the provision for our salvation. He is what God had in mind when that glorious promise was made in the midst of the ruin of the Garden of Eden. According to these verses, God was willing to let Jesus Christ take our sin-debt to Himself and bearing it, be nailed to a cross where He gave His blessed life in our place. So great was the quality of that life, Paul teaches, that the debt we owed to God is “taken out of the way.” It is not forgotten nor is it ignored for a time—our sin is paid for by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in our place.

When Christ paid for our sins, that was one component in our restoration. The second component is something I mentioned already, namely, a righteousness of our own. Having our sins paid for does not, at the same time, make us righteous in the eyes of God. Therefore, a second component in man’s restoration—or the sinner’s justification—is the provision of a righteousness. Once again, let us hear from Paul:

Phil. 3:8… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…

After his conversion, Paul understood that the needed righteousness cannot be earned, but must be imputed. The sinner’s hope is not only that Christ will pay his sin-debt, but also that Christ will credit to the sinner the perfect life He lived while on this earth. Therefore, Paul rejects the notion of self-justification or any idea that the sinner can restore himself. Instead, Paul embraces and teaches the idea that the righteousness that the sinner must have is not his own and cannot come from himself.

The needed righteousness must come from One able to provide it and that One is Jesus Christ. Not only does Christ become our Substitute in His death, He also becomes our Substitute in His life. All that is required of the sinner is supplied by the sinner’s Substitute. Payment for sin is made and righteousness is given and both things are grounded in the Savior.

This brings me to the third point of this sermon, which has to do with an aspect of the gospel that needs to be stressed frequently. Man’s need necessitated a particular provision, which God supplied in Christ. This means that the manner in which fallen man is restored to God’s favor is singular, narrow and restricted.

03. The Exclusivity of the Gospel

By this heading, I mean that there are not many avenues to restoration; there is only one and that is the one designated by the offended Party, namely, the God of this creation. The fact that the way of reconciliation for sinful man might be singular should come as no surprise. Therefore, I will not spend a great deal of time on this third point. Let me refer to a definitive statement made by Paul in 1 Tim. 2: “5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.”

In the context of these verses, the apostle is urging believers to pray for all who are in authority, regardless of rank. His reasoning is that God would have all classes of men, the rulers and well as the ones ruled, to come to the knowledge of salvation (cf. v. 4). Then Paul makes a restrictive, intolerant declaration: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Two parties are envisioned here, God and fallen man. Standing between the two, as it were, is a Mediator, One who is able to bring the two together. To be more precise given all the Biblical data, this Mediator is bringing the one party, man, to the other, God. It is man who needs reconciliation and this reconciliation is achieved by One and only One Mediator, Jesus Christ. He is the One, Paul notes, “who gave Himself as a ransom” for all men.

The need of men, all men, was determined in the Garden. The singular provision of a Substitute for those in need was determined by God. That provision was His Son and that provision is exclusive in the sense that it is the only provision given and accepted by God. As Paul implies here, if a man is to have fellowship with God, it must be by way of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. The sinner cannot go to God on his own, nor can he devise some way that might gain him access to God’s blessed presence.

What Paul teaches here is repeated throughout Scripture. God promised a Deliverer at the time of Adam’s fall. That promised Deliverer was the focus of all prophecy and expectation. No other means of restoration for fallen man is ever mentioned in God’s word because no other means of restoration exists. God accepts sinners in His Son and only in His Son. Since all men are in a state of condemnation, this means that all men either have Christ as their Mediator, and therefore enjoy God’s saving favor, or they remain in their fallen condition and await the day of God’s wrath.

To all sinners, Christ declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) This is not a debatable issue! There are sinners and there are saved sinners in this world and the only thing that separates one category from the other is the Substitutionary mediation of Jesus Christ. There are not many gospels, there is only one gospel and this one gospel is from God and makes known to us our need, God’s provision and the exclusive nature of that provision.

Application

One purpose I had in mind in preparing this sermon was to declare the essentials of the Biblical gospel. While much more could have been said about the gospel, I do believe that an outline of the gospel has been presented and in this outline, I have touched upon the primary elements. Explaining the gospel consists of two chief facts: man’s need and God’s provision.

The gospel is a simple message; it is one easily understood by all who hear it. We were in need and God provided what we needed. In a day when the churches of Christ are dabbling in so many things unrelated to the true ministry of the gospel, we would do well to meditate upon the gospel as it is found in the Bible.

Another purpose for this sermon was my desire to “go on record” regarding my own beliefs and the beliefs of this church where the issue of salvation is concerned. What I have related to you is what I believe Scripture teaches. I believe that man is conceived in a state of alienation from God and that his only hope is the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ.

Further, I believe that fallen man is incapable of doing or desiring any good whatsoever as far as his restoration is concerned. He is a creature absolutely dependent upon the grace of God. This is what I believe and this is what this church believes, by which I mean that this is the doctrine that we hold and teach.

As I noted, these convictions about the nature of man and the nature of salvation will influence everything you will hear taught from this pulpit in the coming year. You will hear statements indicating our utter dependence upon God in all things; you will hear statements ascribing all glory to God and statements urging complete devotion to God and His holy will.

All these things and more are grounded in what the Bible teaches about our need as fallen creatures and God’s response to our need in Christ. Whether we are talking about salvation or our ethical obligations or our vocations, all that we are to know and do is traced back to man’s fall in the Garden and God’s merciful restoration of man in Christ.

And a final purpose for this sermon was my desire to encourage you to consider anew the glorious work that God has done for us. Let us begin the new year with a fresh perspective on what God has accomplished for us. In connection with this purpose, I want to emphasize to our young people their responsibility to consider the gospel of our salvation. You are privileged to be growing up in an environment in which we all are attempting to serve God and communicate to you the knowledge of the Bible. Understand, however, that the gospel that I have described is just as relevant for you as it is for anyone else.

When the Bible describes the miserable state of fallen man, it is describing your state apart from Christ. When it speaks of the condemnation of all who are descendants of Adam, it is speaking of you. Give thanks to God that He has placed you in the community of believers—this is no small privilege—but also know that you are a sinner and you must own Christ as your Substitute if you are to escape the inevitable end of God’s enemies.

Some Thoughts on the Divine Origin of the Church

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The context of this passage is well known. Jesus has been crucified and He has appeared to His disciples following His resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter of this book, He explains to His disciples that they were going to become witnesses for Him beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually encompassing the whole world. When we look at the Gospels, we see that the same disciples were often confused about the things Jesus taught them and the things Jesus predicted. But at one point, Jesus promised a Helper who would come after Him to equip these disciples to carry out the commission given to them by the Savior.

The arrival of that Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, is recorded in the verses I just read. This happened on the day of Pentecost. This holy day occurred 50 days after Passover. Rabbinic scholars teach that Moses brought the law of God down from Mount Sinai 50 days after the observance of Passover. This particular day; therefore, came to have great significance for the Jews.

During the time of Christ, the Jews were somewhat scattered throughout the region. At this celebration, Jews would travel to Jerusalem from various locations throughout the empire. That is why so many areas were represented when this event took place (cf. vv. 9-11). The Spirit that comes on this day is the Spirit of Christ. He comes to prepare the disciples to take a new law to the world—the law of Christ or the law of liberty, as James calls it in his epistle. The law of God was given to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. On this occasion, the One who kept the law of God perfectly for us so that we might be redeemed dispatches His Spirit to apply the victory He attained.

After this, the book of Acts records the phenomenal growth of the early Church. The disciples who were confused and timid become men of superior understanding and boldness. On this day, the transformation of the world began. And it is still going on in our day as the people of Christ speak, teach, and preach about Him throughout the world. The few thousand who were converted within days of this event have become millions upon millions over the centuries. This is the context for this passage of Scripture.

The disciples were gathered in an upper room that was used as living quarters. Based on the previous chapter, we know that they were devoting themselves to prayer and were probably discussing recent events. While contemplating their circumstances, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing when, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) In addition, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (v. 3) This event had significance, not just for this particular day, but for the rest of their lives. And this event had significance, not just for the city of Jerusalem, but for the entire world. On this day, the subjection of the world to the King of Kings begins. Everything that grew out of this event, which includes the establishment and global progress of the Church of Christ, bears the mark of the supernatural. The Church is not a creation of man, it is a creation of God. The destiny of the Church is not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God.

What does all of this imply for the ministry of local congregations? I would mention first the matter of our mission. The mission of the Church is the conversion of sinners. The mission of the Church is the conversion of nations of sinners through the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ. In a local ministry, we must understand that our mission is to preach and apply the gospel. Only the gospel can bring about the salvation of a lost soul; therefore, the gospel must be the primary concern of the local church because we exist to save lost souls. Contemporary churches are often extremely confused when it comes to articulating their mission. As result, many churches have tried to become all things to all people, with the result that their primary mission, as assigned by the Savior, suffers from neglect.

In addition to bearing on the relationship between the local church and the surrounding community, the supernatural origin of the Church also relates to the nature of our worship. If the Church is of the divine origin, then it must reflect that truth in everything it does. And one of the most significant tasks in which the local church engages is the worship of God. The local church is obligated to make sure that the way in which God is approached on the Lord’s Day is acceptable to Him. It is God’s character that we need to consider when we decide what we are going to include or exclude from our service of worship.

Once again, we must admit that contemporary local churches are often severely misguided in this important area. It is common today for churches to structure themselves in order to attract visitors. This is exactly the wrong perspective. As a divine institution, the local church must reflect its divine origin. The Church is, once again, the creation of God through the Holy Spirit. This truth was made unmistakably clear on the day of Pentecost.

In our worship, it should be evident that we are offering our praise and our service to God, which in turn means that we are to worship Him according to what He has revealed to us. The worship of the local church is not the place for innovation, it is the place for tradition, tradition stretching all the way back to the giving of the Scriptures where we find what God says is appropriate. When it comes to worship, a disregard for tradition amounts to disobedience if that disregard causes us to introduce unbiblical elements into our worship. When I speak of disobedience to tradition, I am not referring to the tradition of man, but to the tradition of doctrine given to us by God. The Bible tells us what God accepts when it comes to His worship. That is our tradition.

The supernatural origin of the Church has implications for our mission and our organization, specifically our worship. I would add one more observation. This one concerns our expectation as local congregations. Based on what we know about the origin of the Church and the equipping of the Church by the Holy Spirit, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the gospel in this world?

Let us acknowledge that the conflict between darkness and light has been decided. It was decided when Jesus rose from the dead, which is why the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupied such a prominent place in the preaching of the early Church. Since Peter stood before the people gathered in Jerusalem and preached, Christ has been applying His victory through the Church to the world. And we should expect that process to continue. The divine origin of the Church guarantees that history must unfold as an amazing application of the atonement.

We live in a dark day when it comes to the expectation of contemporary churches. The optimism that should accompany those who believe the gospel has been all but extinguished by the so-called “end times” eschatology. But understand that this is not the view that characterized the Church of Christ in the past; nor will it be the view that characterizes the Church in the future. But thanks be to God that eventually the Church will escape the clutches of this view that robs Christ of His glory and the Church of Her vision.

 

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 29

August 22, 2012

The LORD Laughs at Them

 

He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.

(Psalm 2:4)

When did human beings start mocking the concept of God and ridiculing His followers? This question is easy to answer: “From the beginning of history.” Man’s perception of God and all things associated with God was thoroughly corrupted when our first parents disobeyed Him in the Garden. Although we have been made by God and live in a universe that He created and now governs, due to our fallen natures, we do not recognize Him and we find the very idea of a Supreme Being to whom we are accountable irrational unless we are enlightened by God.

The serpent mocked God as he tempted Eve to disobey. And by their actions, Adam and Eve mocked God by casting aside His command and proceeding according to their own wisdom and desire. As Noah built the ark, he called his generation to repentance before God and for that, he was scorned and considered a fool as he warned about what was to come.

This kind of behavior continued throughout history and is certainly present in our own day. We hear of those who want to rid our culture of all references to God, all respectful signs of belief in Him, and all evidence of how belief in God has influenced this country’s development. In recent years, the activities of those who have identified themselves as atheists have expanded and become more entangled with our day-to-day experience. They have taken steps to organize themselves and present a professional front. Banding together, many atheists have begun using our court system to further the agenda I just described.

After the twin towers in New York City were reduced to rubble, workers discovered an unusual formation of metal. Two steel beams had been compressed together in the form of a cross. Officials are planning to locate this cross in the same vicinity as a way of honoring those who perished and comforting their loved ones. An atheist group, however, is vigorously opposing this memorial. They say that it will discriminate against those who reject the idea of the Christian God.

This is the kind of situation that often causes believers to become anxious and frustrated. It seems to them that our world is getting more and more hostile to God even while immorality spreads at an alarming rate. On such occasions, we should keep two things in mind. First, as noted above, enmity toward God and the things of God is nothing new. Although such opposition has existed throughout the history of the world, it has not succeeded in eliminating God’s work for and through His people.

Second, God has revealed a pointed reaction to those who would mock Him and seek to rid the world of His influence. His response is quoted above: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” It is absurd to think that the creature would represent a serious threat to the Creator. In this verse, God mocks those who want to cast off His authority. I do not mean to be irreverent, but they are little more than an amusement to God.

God has always controlled our existence and He always will. His power is unlimited and His will cannot be impeded. In the end, it is those who deny God who are the fools, not those who confess Him and seek to live for His honor. Therefore, whatever victories they appear to gain are hollow and ultimately meaningless.

If you find yourself unsettled by the kinds of things I have described or, in fact, by any attempt to silence the Church or remove believers from the debate, then you should memorize Psalm 2:4. If the atheists were a genuine threat to God and His plans, then we should be seriously alarmed. But, as noted, God laughs at the grand assertions of His enemies. Remember, too, that this God, who is by nature unstoppable, is just as involved in your life as He is overseeing His unfolding plan of redemption.

God is intimately aware of you and all of your struggles, all of your worries, and all of your hopes. Contrary to what God thinks of His enemies, He loves us and guards us while we are on our journey to heaven. Just as there is no power to oppose God successfully, so there is no real threat against us because we are His children. If the united powers of darkness must fail in their war against God, then so must they fail in their attempts to harm God’s people. Therefore, the atheists can rave and accuse and demand all they want, but they will never be the cause of distress for those who know God.

NOTE: All Saints Parish Church is sending a Missions Team to the Colville Reservation next week. This team has traveled to the Reservation annually for many years. This team has shown the mercy of Christ in various ways. All that they do expresses aspects of the gospel. Our new congregation is glad to keep this tradition alive.

Charge to the Colville Mission Team

July 15, 2012

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was in the pulpit for the first time in four weeks having just returned from vacation. As it turned out, that was my last Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church; it was not, I’m very happy to say, the last time I would deliver a charge to our faithful Colville Missions Team.

Here we are, 12 months later, and we have a team prepared to return to a ministry that has a history of faithfulness and hard work. In my opinion, this ministry has endured a critical test of character and commitment. In His wisdom, God often ordains such experiences for those ministries that are destined to endure and produce fruit. The Colville project falls into this category.

I want to commend the members of this year’s team for your willingness to return to this labor of love and mercy. I also want to commend this congregation for your steadfast support of this ministry. Many things have vied for our attention this past year, but we have remained committed to an effort that means a lot to people most of us will never meet. Things that might appear almost inconsequential to some, things like a wood shed or a painted house, are of tremendous value to those who receive the attention of our Missions Team.

And I believe this pleases God. It pleases God to see His people go forth to a challenging circumstance that will require a lot of hard work, but offer nothing in terms of tangible reward. This is Christ-like behavior. This is Christian love.

This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Love endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7) As a team, you will face challenges during your time on the reservation, but you will endure. You may have uncomfortable moments due to the events of this past year, but you will endure. You will be tired and your body may ache, but you will endure. You will endure because you are serving in the name of Christ and you are serving for His glory and to bring His compassion to the people of the reservation.

It’s an interesting truth that we find extra strength, increased vitality, and an enhanced ability to carry on when we are in the act of being Christ to some in need. Selfless labor invigorates us and we find that we can go further and do more than we ever thought.

My charge to this team is simple: Go forth in the love of God and do what you have done so many times before. Take Christ to Colville and exhibit Him to the people as you build and paint and cleanup. And trust Him to bring fruit from your humble efforts according to what pleases Him. Let’s pray.

There are many negative consequences when Biblical doctrine is corrupted. One of those consequences has to do with terms found in Scripture. When a word that is associated with an important Biblical teaching is, instead, associated with heretical teaching, the word itself immediately raises a red flag when mentioned in other contexts. This creates a hindrance when orthodox teachers attempt to explain the Bible. Some of those listening may already have a preconceived notion about certain terms and are less likely to receive proper teaching without being affected by the flawed instruction previously heard.

In my recent experience, I have encountered this problem several times. Take the word “headship,” for example. The concept of headship is a vital teaching in the Bible. It is used to explain the nature of the relationship between Christ and the Church in which He is the chief authority, merciful guardian, and gracious provider. The word is also used to describe the nature of the relationship between a husband and wife, which is patterned after the relationship we have with the Savior. The husband is called to relate to his wife as Christ does to the Church. With Jesus as the supreme example of headship, this means that the husband will give of himself for the good of his wife. He will count her welfare as more important than his own and, demonstrating all of the loving attributes that the Church enjoys from our Head, will lead in a way that creates a strong and honorable marriage in the sight of God.

Unbiblical teaching, however, has caused “headship” to become a suspicious word in many circles. Some churches explain the idea of headship as if it grants a detached authority to husband. He is told that it is his responsibility to rule over his wife and to instruct her to follow him as one would follow a master. This distortion ruins a wonderful Biblical concept and, at the same time, introduces significant tension into a marriage. The wife inevitably begins to feel like an unappreciated servant rather than a beloved and secure companion.

To be clear, the husband does have authority in the marriage relationship, but it is defined by the example of the Savior, not by worldly examples of despots, tyrants, egomaniacs, and self-centered fools who want to take the phrase, “a man’s home is his castle,” literally. As I indicated, a husband should be looking to Christ constantly to learn how the head of a relationship is to conduct himself.

Another word that has been terribly abused in some Christian churches is “multi-generational.” In the Bible, this term refers to the process whereby one generation declares the greatness of God to the next. (cf. Judges 6:13; Psalm 44:1; 145:4; 2 Timothy 1:5) Testimony regarding the promises of God, His mighty deeds, and His love for His people is given in this manner down through the ages as history marches on.

But in some ministries, “multi-generational” has become a buzzword that is associated with a misleading assurance of salvation for the descendants of believers. The idea is that parents must raise their child according to a particular format, which supposedly comes from the Scriptures, in order to secure salvation for that child. This all depends, therefore, on the works of the present generation.

This viewpoint comes very close to teaching that God is obligated to save our children if we perform correctly as parents. Naturally, this approach causes parents to rely on their own efforts rather than the grace of God. It also makes external matters unreasonably important in the child’s relationship with God and the Church. This perspective gives a false confidence to parents and children alike and can become a modern-day expression of Phariseeism.

In my own ministry, I have seen eyebrows raised when I’ve used this word, “multi generational,” in a sermon or discussion. I often provide a disclaimer so that it is clear that I am not repeating the disturbing interpretation to which my listeners may have been subjected previously. Understood properly, of course, this concept is wonderfully encouraging to the people of God. It declares that God has provided for us and works for our good and keeps us as His own generation after generation. The present generation praises God in the hearing of the rising generation so that it, too, will know of the wisdom, power, and mercy of God. Multi-generationalism does not emphasize our works, as if we are attempting to earn a place in God’s family. On the contrary, this Biblical teaching emphasizes the amazing and abundant grace of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

Other terms and doctrines, such as “patriarchy” and “Christian liberty,” could be cited as examples of this problem. The ones mentioned above, however, should be sufficient to inform us and put us on guard so that we prevent the corruption of the Bible’s teaching, if possible, or be prepared to correct it as God gives us opportunity.

Should churches “close” on Christmas Day? The fact that this question is seriously considered by churches across the country indicates the dismal state of the contemporary evangelical church. It indicates a faulty understanding of the Bible’s authority and a deplorable comprehension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most evangelicals, I would maintain, do not understand the nature of the Fourth Commandment, which has to do with keeping the Sabbath. Many assume that this law is no longer relevant because it refers to the so-called “Jewish Sabbath.” This is, however, not what the Bible teaches. This Commandment concerns the principle of Sabbath, not a particular day of the week.

The primary focus of the Sabbath is the temporary cessation of our ordinary routines so that a period of time may be designated for worship and rest. The term “Sabbath” (shabbath) refers to rest, but this rest is actually “work” of a another kind—the “work” of worship. Periodically, therefore, God requires His people to set aside their normal labors in order to concentrate on the tasks of worship and rest.

From the beginning, the Sabbath was intended to be a picture of the coming eternal state in which the people of God will have uninterrupted worship of God while being freed from all the implications and complications of sin. The Sabbath is tied to the issue of redemption, which means that it is joined to the work of Christ. The Bible teaches that it is in Christ that the sinner finds deliverance from sin and the ultimate consequence of sin, which is eternal condemnation. By offering Himself in our place, Jesus paid our penalty thus guaranteeing that we would have a place in the presence of God forever.

In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the writer explains the relationship between the Sabbath principle and the work of Christ. He refers to the leadership of Joshua who successfully established the people of Israel in the land of promise (cf. Heb. 11:8-10). That land was a type of the uninterrupted peace that God has prepared for His people in eternity. The writer emphasizes, however, that Joshua did not provide the final rest for God’s people, but only a picture of it. He concludes: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:9) The text makes plain that the continuing Sabbath obligation has to do with the work of Christ. Only in Him can true and lasting spiritual rest be found (cf. Matt. 11:28, 29; Rev. 14:13).

As already stated, the Sabbath doctrine has to do with our responsibility to set aside a portion of our time for the worship of God and related activities, and this is done in anticipation of the coming day of everlasting rest. This is the time when the redemption of the human race is finished and the Savior presents redeemed humanity to His Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-28). Before the work of Christ was completed on Earth, the day of perfect and eternal rest (or Sabbath) was yet future. Therefore, God commanded that the people work for six days and rest on the seventh. This illustrated the truth that the rest of redemption had not yet been achieved. The Jews lived their lives in light of the promise of rest and they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in whom they would find true and unending Sabbath.

With the completion of His work and return to heaven, those existing after the completion of Christ’s ministry live in a time of redemption accomplished. The labor of the Savior has forever secured our place in the eternal rest of God. Our Sabbath keeping is also symbolic, therefore. The nature of our week testifies that the promise has been fulfilled, redemption has been accomplished, and we may begin our labors with that certain knowledge. The change from a seventh day observance to a first day observance of the Sabbath was necessary in order to reflect properly the redemptive work of Christ. Rest was anticipated, but now it is realized.

All of this means that a weekly Sabbath is not an option, but an obligation, which is why you find a law regarding the Sabbath among the Ten Commandments. Just as we would not consider dispensing with the Commandments regarding murder, stealing, lying, etc., so we should not behave as if the law of Sabbath is no longer relevant.

Old Testament believers “preached” the gospel by working six days and resting on the seventh at the end of their week. As stated, this pattern taught that salvation and eternal rest were yet future in terms of having been secured by the Savior. New Testament believers also preach the gospel in the pattern of our work week by reflecting the fact that Christ has completed His mission. By observing the Sabbath on the first day of the week, we announce the finality of our redemption before we begin our earthly labors.

The Church is, of course, the primary representation of the Savior’s post-resurrection ministry to this world. In our weekly gatherings, we teach the gospel not only in our words, but also by the way we arrange our days and weeks. Due to the nature of Christ’s work, it would be inappropriate to continue observing the Sabbath rest on the last day of the week. It had to be changed in order to declare accurately the progress of God’s plan of redemption.

This makes the matter of Sunday worship an essential issue. If Christians do not meet for worship on Sunday, we misconstrue what has been accomplished by our Savior. The same thing must be said about those churches that substitute a Saturday night gathering for a Sunday gathering, which many churches do when Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. The gathering of believers on the first day of the week is a testimony regarding the death and resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament seventh day Sabbath was in the grave, so to speak, with the crucified Christ. His resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week forever established the primacy of that day.

The question of whether churches should “close” on Christmas Day should never be entertained. We are commanded in the Bible to observe a weekly Sabbath; it is an imperative. This duty may not be set aside, therefore, for any other purpose—such as Mother’s day, Father’s day, or football. Following apostolic teaching, first century Christians continued the six plus one pattern of the Old Testament, but reoriented the relationship between the days. Sunday became the Lord’s Day (cf. Matt. 28:1 ff.; Rev. 1:10).

The answer to our question is “no.” Evangelical, Bible believing churches should never be “closed” this side of glory. In light of the above teaching of the Bible, the reasons put forward in favor of dispensing with Sabbath observance on Christmas Day are indeed pathetic. But as I said, the very fact that this question is being seriously contemplated illustrates the troubling status of contemporary believers when it comes to grasping and manifesting the glorious work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of our race.

As some readers know, I have been involved in a lengthy dispute with a couple of officers from my former church. One minor aspect of this ongoing event has to do with some property these men have in their possession, which belongs to me. These items are not particularly valuable, but do have significance to me for other reasons. For months, I thought I had lost one of these items, but it turns out that it was found at our former church location. Rather than return it to me–and ownership was clearly observable on the item–the one who found my property gave it to the officers with whom I have been having such trouble. When I found out that my property had been found, I requested that it be returned; I made this request four times. The first three requests were simply ignored. The fourth request did bring a response from the officers. They claim that my property was “abandoned” by me and, therefore, they have no obligation to return it. Is this the most ridiculous reasoning you’ve ever heard or what? They have my property and I know they have it and I asked for it to be returned. Simple, right? Not to men who are determined to make your life miserable. They have latched on to anything that might be used to cause me frustration. This incident is a case in point. I believe this is nothing less than theft. I did not abandon my property; I lost it. Now that I know it has been found, I have asked that it be given back to me. Shouldn’t Christian men–officers in a church, in fact–be above such petty behavior? Is this kind of conduct pleasing in the sight of God? Is this how the Savior wants His people to treat one another? I find this behavior nothing less than shameful.